American food can be described by its regions, such as south Louisiana where immigrants set the standards – a melting pot of French, Spanish, Italian, African, Caribbean and native American. However, when looked at from other shores, Americana can mean hot dogs, hamburgers and apple pie. Or steak and potatoes, pizza and barbecue.
We love it all, and a Fourth of July menu can include boiled shrimp and beer can chicken.
One local establishment, The American Sector Restaurant, celebrates Americana all year long. Beef short ribs, baked macaroni, corn dogs and chicken pot pies.
Americans love sweets, evidenced by huge dessert sections in the majority of community cookbooks and by restaurant menus everywhere. Take American Sector’s Wartime Pound Cake with Fresh Berries, and S’mores Pie with Roasted Marshmallow Fluff.
“Here we do a play off of some of the dishes from the (World War II) time frame,” says Raymond St. Pierre, executive chef of the National World II Museum. One of the dishes customers love is spaghetti. “We make a homemade pasta with an old-style meatball – one large meatball on the plate served with homemade tomato sauce. A customer recently said it brought him back to the dinner table when he was a kid.”
Other dishes that reflect Americana are an open-faced roast beef sandwich featuring old-fashioned pot roast served on Texas toast with mashed potatoes and brown gravy, and Peacemaker Oyster Dip, made like a sous chef’s grandmother’s oyster dressing.
Speaking of hamburgers and apple pie, chef Brack May, chef-owner of Cowbell, can tell you a few things about that.
“We are a diner, and Americana is really what I focus on,” May says. “A lot of it came from necessity or from immigrants and it morphed over time, depending on where it was from. A lot of Creole food has reached Americana, done the same way for a long period of time. It’s based on local ingredients.”
Classic Wartime Pound Cake
8 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups sifted cake flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and salt. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, lemon and orange zests and nutmeg.
Gradually add the egg mixture to the sugar mixture. Beat on medium speed about 5 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of bowl.
On low speed, slowly add the sifted cake flour until the batter comes together. Finish mixing by hand with a rubber spatula. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool
for 10 minutes and remove from pan. Cool right side up.
Top with orange juice glaze, if desired.
Serves 8 to 10
Orange Juice Glaze
1/2 cup sugar
Juice from 1 orange
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Whisk sugar and juices together. Heat in a microwave in a microwave-safe bowl for 20 seconds. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Pour over pound cake while still warm.
For a Fourth of July dessert, serve with fresh strawberries and blueberries. Orange juice glaze can be poured over berries as well.
Cowbell Apple Pies
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup ice water
3 Tablespoons butter
1 pound Golden Delicious apples
2 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch kosher salt
1 Tablespoon bourbon
2 Tablespoons tapioca starch or 3 Tablespoons potato starch*
To make the dough, place the dry ingredients in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse to chop the butter. Add the ice water and stir with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Do not over mix. Turn the contents out onto a sheet of aluminum foil and shape it into a rough ball. Wrap the dough in foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm.
To make the filling, place butter in a large pot and melt over medium heat. Peel and seed apples and cut into 1/2-inch slices, then halve them (like a quarter moon cut in half). Turn the flame up and add the apples, sugar, lemon juice, spices and bourbon. Cook for 5 minutes or so, until some liquid begins to come out of the apples. (Golden delicious apples may start to break down, and that’s OK.) Fold in the starch of your choice and cook for 3 more minutes. Cool and reserve.
When dough and filling are cooled, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough into 6-inch circles, about 1/8-inch thick. Place 1/2-cup of filling in the center of each. Use an egg wash (1 egg, 2 Tablespoons water, pinch salt) to brush the outside of the circle. Fold the outside of the dough over on itself repeatedly every 2 inches, until you form a “free-form” pie. Place the pies on a sprayed or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Brush the outside of the pies with heavy cream, dust with raw or plain white sugar and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan at least twice. (At Cowbell, May cools them on a rack and reheats them for 8 minutes at 350 degrees before serving.)
Serve with vanilla ice cream. Cowbell serves them with vanilla ice cream, crème anglaise and caramel sauce,
Makes 6 individual pies
*These starches are available at Whole Foods Market and some other groceries. Cornstarch may be substituted.